Women across the country live in fear of men. Our patriarchal society keeps men in dominant positions of power while subordinating women. For many ages, the existence of women has always been perceived as being solely for men, to serve men, and cater to their needs. Our society expects women to shrink themselves and be modest according to patriarchal standards, that is, in everything they do, they have to keep it in mind that they cannot be superior to men.
This socialization takes power from women and leads to men viewing women as less than human thus objectifying them and subjecting them to all kinds of violent acts. Gender-based violence is enabled by a culture of men violating women in all sorts of ways from subtle, micro-aggressions such as cat-calling, groping, slut-shaming, rape jokes which eventually build-up to the most unspeakable, gruesome violent acts of rape and murder. South Africa has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence which explains the deeply ingrained culture of violence inflicted on women. Women’s existence is at the mercy of the power men hold, afforded by our patriarchal society. Needless to say, it is not all men who inflict violence on women, however, all men benefit from this power hegemonic masculinity holds over women.
All men benefit from this systemic violence that keeps women in a subordinate position. Women are always cautioned against walking outside alone at night. Women are always cautioned against wearing ‘revealing’ clothes, they might be asking for it. Women have to give out their contact numbers to avoid being killed. Women have to be ‘nice’ and force a smile and endure unwanted attention to avoid violent altercations. Who are women cautioned against? Men. Of course, not all men. But as women, we do know there are certain ways we need to act around men to avoid being violated. Therefore all men are perpetrators of gender-based violence until proven otherwise and the onus is on them to dismantle and de-normalize gender-based violence.
Our society as a whole has a lot to unlearn about different identities, social roles, and expectations we place on men and women, especially when they oppress certain groups of individuals. Men, however, play a larger role in gender-based violence and thus have a collective responsibility to stop this plague which is claiming the lives of women. Men need to stop objectifying women. They have to perceive women as humans who deserve to live in a world where they feel safe. Men need to respect women as much as they respect their male friends. They need to unlearn the ‘socially acceptable’ inferiority of women and learn that women do not exist merely to serve them. Women are also humans with goals and ambitions and they deserve to live long enough to see their dreams come to fruition. Their lives are not supposed to be cut short by men who think have ownership over women’s bodies, nor tainted with traumatic experiences of their bodies being violated.
Women’s bodies belong to them and them only – men need to relearn this and respect women’s autonomy. Men need to have honest conversations among themselves and acknowledge that so far, their manhood and masculinity exists against the backdrop of violated womanhood and femininity and denied the humanity of women. Men need to deconstruct harmful notions of manhood and redefine manhood and masculinity without subordinating women. Men should not take power from women. They should not silence women. They should leave women alone.